Jakub Jirsák - stock.adobe.com

Top 5 IoT predictions for growing use cases in 2021

IoT predictions for 2021 include growing use of medical wearable devices; ready-made, off-the-shelf AI; and IoT products and more sustainable energy for computing.

IoT has seen investment and adoption increase over the past few years, and, at the onset of 2021, this trend is expected to continue.

Despite the massive business interruption in 2020 from the COVID-19 pandemic, IoT adoption accelerated. A recent IEEE global survey of 350 CIOs and CTOs revealed that 42% of respondents said they expedited the adoption of IoT technologies due to the pandemic. Organizations saw IoT as a way to increase efficiency amidst challenging business conditions.

Looking ahead to 2021, growth and maturity are the top keywords. More organizations plan to shift from exploratory and proof-of-concept IoT investments to effective business implementations.

As implementations start to produce meaningful performance gains for organizations, they will have greater incentive to invest more in the technology, which brings five main IoT predictions for 2021.

1. Wearables will blur the line between consumer gadgets and medical devices

COVID-19 heightened the average person's desire for personal health monitoring. Both new and established vendors in the wearables market are rapidly rolling out medical monitoring features, such as heart rate variability, pulse oximeters, electrocardiography and continuous glucose monitoring.

The most innovative and socially minded organizations will aggregate individual data to discover larger population health trends and share their data sets to spur research advancements concurrently within the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

2. Consumers will be more concerned about data privacy

Emerging technologies tend to have a honeymoon period, where the excitement overshadows practical matters. As IoT becomes more mainstream, the public will demand to know where IoT is used in their lives, how it's used and who has access to personal data.

Organizations that mutually invest in IoT and AI can see better outcomes than those who only invest in IoT.

Home privacy is an obvious concern, but so is privacy in workspaces and public places. Devices that monitor physical distance or criminal activity straddle the line between beneficial to the greater good and infringing on the right to privacy. Organizations that use IoT can expect increased calls for IoT oversight.

3. AI IoT products will be more accessible

IoT and AI combine well because IoT generates a tremendous volume, which makes AI more useful. Organizations that mutually invest in IoT and AI can expect to see better outcomes than those who only invest in IoT.

Mutual investment in AI and IoT make predictive maintenance and user experience features possible. Despite advantages, AI and IoT projects prove more technically challenging than straight IoT projects, and the shortage of technical experts in both areas exasperates the issue. As AI IoT adoptions increase, software vendors will create more turnkey AI IoT offerings than what exists today to implement AI and IoT with fewer obstacles.

4. Digital twin adoption will explode due to increased remote work

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the concept of digital twins -- digital replicas of real-world things -- was still fairly early in the adoption curve. Pre-pandemic, digital twins appealed to organizations because they enabled experimentation and optimization without high overhead costs.

That still holds true, but a new adoption driver has emerged: the shift to remote work. Even when things return to normal, fewer people will return to physical workplaces. Employees will continue to build and experiment; they will just be doing it from their home offices using digital twins.

5. Edge computing will benefit from green energy investment

The climate was another big news focus for 2020. Wildfires, hurricanes and other climate disasters have attracted renewed attention from citizens and politicians alike. The utility industry has already embraced edge computing for real-time monitoring and optimization of energy usage, and that will continue and expand into ancillary sectors.

Another often-overlooked green benefit of edge computing is that it reduces network traffic and dependence on data centers and their hefty energy demands. Public and private sector investments in sustainable setups will create more demand for edge-computing offerings.

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